LOS ANGELES-It’s games like the one played Sunday at Staples Center between the Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers that highlight the fact that the home team really miss the down-low presence of Blake Griffin.
A perimeter defense might be the other thing the Clippers are lacking after LeBron James, J.R. Smith and rest of the Cavaliers decided to make it rain from the outside as if they had gone fishing somewhere at one of Southern California beaches.
“[Playing without Blake Griffin] gets real tough,” Clippers guard Chris Paul said after Cleveland’s runaway 114-90 win. “They have three, four guys out there that no shot clock can bail you out [of]. Just having Blake to be able to throw the ball to into the post when the shot clock is low, or just that pick-and-roll, just having that pick-and-pop option.-just all that tension that he brings, opens it up for all of us. So it has been tough without him, but we have to keep fighting until he gets back.”
That couldn’t come soon enough.
This was supposed to be one of the premier games of the season. It turned out to be a 3-point layup drill instead for the Cavaliers. Cleveland wound up connecting on 18 of 37 shots from long distance, knocking the Clippers out of this game by the end of the second quarter when they built a 58-41 lead going into halftime.
By the time this game was over, the Cavaliers’ 24-point road victory looked like a statement game for a bigger prize further down the road. In last year’s NBA Finals, the Cavaliers, without guard Kyrie Irving for most of the series against the Golden State Warriors because of an injury, didn’t have enough offensive firepower to keep up with the lighting-in-a-bottle shooting by the Splash Brothers tandem of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
James and the Cavaliers came up short in their title quest.
This season might be a do-over for the Cavaliers. The mid-season acquisition of long-range gunner Channing Frye, with the lethal shooting of Smith, can spell trouble for whoever meet up with Cleveland in the postseason. It was Smith and Frye who torched the Clippers all game. Smith (5 of 8) and Frye (5 of 7) combined to make 10 of the Cleveland’s 18 three-point shots.
“The style of basketball we play, with LeBron [James] and Kyrie [Irving] pretty much making all the plays for us, guys are going to get open shots, and open three, and we have to make them,”Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “I thought Channing [Frye] coming out and making those threes kind of became contagious. It kind of opened it up for everyone else, and everyone got confidence off of Channing’s shot making. That is the way we are going to play, that is the way we have been playing, so guys have to step up and make shots.”
Channing missed just two of his 3-point attempts against the Clippers as he looks to get back to his long distance shooting ways from his Phoenix Suns stint.
“The last few games Channing has been coming into his own, coming into that role,” Irving said. “He got the start against the Lakers and then coming off the bench [today], he is just giving us life off the bench and that is what we need from him.”
The defeat makes the Clippers 1-3 in their last four games against viable title contenders. The road won’t get any easier for the Clippers with games lined up against San Antonio, Houston, Golden State, Portland and Oklahoma City later this month. The Clippers would do themselves a favor by stepping up their defensive play, which went somewhere North against Cleveland.
“I thought it [the defense] was pretty bad,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Their [Cleveland] penetration and offensive rebounds created it [the win]. But give them credit; I thought they moved the ball and played great together and made every shot. It was tough. I thought we started off the game with a great pace and a great spirit, but we lost our pace because they were scoring every time so we never got our pace back and it affected us.”
Cleveland outscored the Clippers in all four quarters to dominate the game, including coming away with a 37-22 second period advantage to establish control of the contest.
“We should have more pride,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. “We did not fight like we should have, could have. We started started out the game great, but there was no fight once they punched back.”